Kiss Period Pain Goodbye, Naturally | By Dr. Kaylee Alton, ND
We had the pleasure of hosting an informative webinar with Dr. Kaylee Alton ND at our Toronto shop all about understanding your period and the associated disorders, side effects, and female-health issues.
As a follow-up to her amazing webinar, she has shared this comprehensive guide to understanding and managing your period pain.
Kiss Period Pain Goodbye, Naturally
By Dr Kaylee Alton, ND
Period pain. These symptoms can be mildly annoying to downright depressing, often with pain so bad you either need to pop an Advil 1-2x/day or stay home all together. And yet, you have come to think these symptoms are normal.
There are things you can be doing to get rid of these monthly pains. Thankfully, you can often notice positive changes within as few as 3 cycles (3 months).
Pain With Your Period
Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, happens largely from 2 big culprits: too much inflammation (too much sugar is the primary cause, followed by stress), or have too much estrogen in your system (estrogen dominance), or both. If I ever get a crampy period or acne before my period, I’ll know I’ve had a rough month or two of eating more refined, carb heavy foods. Personally, my genetics have less sugar processing power! (We can talk about genetics for days but that won’t happen here). Other reasons for experiencing period pain are:
- You have been depleting your body’s ability to process hormones in your liver, from taking medication (even birth control pills), to drinking too much, to overdoing it on the caffeine (you caffeine lover, you). Coffee/black tea have tannins that can block absorption of our minerals (hint: magnesium, our muscle relaxant, that helps the uterus not cramp) and the caffeine has to be processed by the liver, using up the liver’s limited processing power, made up by largely b-vitamins. For specific b-vitamin deficiencies, whether it’s folate, B12 or P5P, talk to your naturopathic doctor.
- You have another health condition causing you to have irregular periods, like hypothyroidism or PCOS. Irregular periods can mean longer cycles, 36-42 days, or one period every other month, or sometimes every 3rd month. The gap between bleeding means you are accumulating your estrogen, or making it in greater amounts relative to progesterone, and therefore will have estrogen dominance.
- If you don’t have the dull, achy, cramping pain and instead you have gut-stabbing, want to rip out your insides, faint at the movie-theatre pain, you may have a more severe medical condition causing pain, like PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), or Endometriosis. Both require medical treatment after a full work-up from your healthcare provider. The tips in this article will help, but you will need additional supplementation and/or medical intervention.
Big Culprit #1: Too Much Inflammation
It is important to actively include anti-inflammatory habits into your day.
The biggest sources of inflammation are sugar and high-sugar carbs (breads, pastas, pastries, corn chips, tortillas, fruit, dried fruit), high animal fat diets, particularly red meat that hasn’t had a change to roam around a lot or who was primarily corn-fed, modified fats (found in fried foods), non-organic food (aka GMO’d food, because it is more pesticide-laden and drains our minerals), and environmental toxic exposures (conventional shampoos, creams, make-up).
Second Biggest Culprit: Too much estrogen
We accumulate estrogen from our foods, from chemicals in the environment, from imbalances in our body and from our liver’s inability to break it down to be eliminated.
So what are we going to do about the pain?
NSAIDs for pain.
Tylenol is a pain reliever, but doesn’t have the strength to be an anti-inflammatory drug. Advil, Motrin and Naproxen, on the other hand, are strong NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that also decrease pain but in stronger doses can decrease inflammation. Since inflammation is a big contributor to period pain, you’ll want to reach for acute-relief supports that are anti-inflammatory.
However, before you reach for that sweet, sweet relief that may reduce pain, it’s important to know that taking NSAIDs chronically can cause internal bleeding in your gut and even cause fertility problems. Since taking NSAIDs daily is unsafe, I recommend you get familiar with the “natural advil” and reserve NSAIDs for emergencies (like when it’s your wedding day or you need to give a presentation, etc).
The Pill for Pain
We love our estrogen! It keeps us young, keeps our bones dense, and allows us to have a period. Unfortunately, the birth control pill is commonly prescribed for period pain and these uncomfortable symptoms. The birth control pill, however, has more side-effects than NSAIDs and is less effective for pain relief from inflammation. It is given because this synthetic form of a low dose of estrogen and a low dose of progesterone (anyone on LoLo?) will turn off your body’s own production of hormones, taking over to supply a steady state, which can help lighten your period and therefore causing you less pain. But it doesn’t affect or heal the inflammation you take in.
Natural Acute Relief:
A natural Advil alternative is the supplement curcumin, a derivative of the spice turmeric. It will require more capsules than taking Advil, and is much more expensive, but your health is worth it. Other forms of “natural Advil” include your naturopathic doctor customizing a treatment plan for you to take in the moment, when you need it. This could include herbs (in liquid or tablet form), like Glycyrrhiza, Rhemania, Bosweillia and anti-oxidants like CoQ10 or vitamin C, or anti-inflammatories like omega-3 fish oil at a higher dose. What I love about taking curcumin is you can access it in the food-form turmeric, by cooking with it daily and adding more Omega-3 foods to your diet like sardines, salmon and mackerel. Be sure to use a fat, like coconut milk, and spice, like black pepper, to the turmeric you are using in a food source, to ensure your body is able to absorb the medicinal anti-inflammatory action of the spice.
There is a reason you crave chocolate on your period. Dark chocolate is actually packed with magnesium and your body wants this muscle-relaxing mineral. I recommend supplementing with magnesium a few days leading up to your period to prevent or ease the cramping.
- Hot water bottle. A tried, tested and true comfort during pain. The application of heat will help blood pool more and help muscles relax.
- Make the switch from tampons to pads. Removing added pressure from the area can provide a huge relief.
- Herbal supplements to reduce estrogen dominance. The specific herb can vary based on your complex of symptoms and health picture. But they are likely to include either Chaste-Tree (Vitex), Cramp-Bark, Schisandra, Shatavari, Black Cohosh. One product I love to use is FemCo by Mediherb, which is only available by prescription from your naturopathic doctor.
I’m all for acute-relief in the moment, because we can’t always be on our A-game, BUT, I do recommend you take steps to affect the cause of your pain, and not just treat the symptoms.
If there is a one-summary sentence that I could say would help the majority of people from pain and PMS and period symptoms in general it’s: eat a super clean diet.
A clean diet looks like: whole foods only, nothing processed/packaged, blood-sugar stabilizing, no coffee, and lots of good nutrients from green leafy veggies, colourful veggies, adequate protein and omega-3 fats.
We can focus on taking in supplements when we can’t eat as healthy as we always want to, but if you can learn how to control one thing, it would be best to learn how to eat the best for your body, which basically looks like a mediterranean diet and eating whole foods only. Here is the breakdown:
Natural Preventative Relief for Period Pain:
- Increase your fiber. Aim for 30-35g of fiber each day. Fiber helps to bind to excess estrogens in the gut, preventing them from being absorbed. It also helps prevent cancer. I tell all women who come to see me to add 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed to their diet, daily.
- Eat a Mediterranean diet! Also known as a whole food diet, anti-inflammatory diet, or now what people are calling a more plant-based diet. Those Mediterranean know what is up because of the great fibers, veggies and fats in their diet. Increase your omega-3 fats in your diet (salmon, mackerel, sardines), omega-9 fats (olive oil, olives, nuts, avocados), omega-7s (flax, hemp fats).
- We don’t live in the Mediterranean sun, so make sure you see your naturopath each October, get a blood test for vitamin D, take the appropriate dose all winter, up into May, and then take a break each summer from the vitamin D supplement. Repeat each year.
- Add spices like cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, rosemary, clove and all the herbs to your diet. Turmeric milk has become more popular (again, adding the spice to a fat). Try a turmeric latte at a cafe near you in Toronto!
- Build muscle and workout! The more muscle you have, the better your body can handle sugar. The more you move your body, the more you move your blood, which helps detox you of your hormones for that day.
- Remove foods that are inflammatory: sugars, refined carbs and dairy (eat intuitively if you are triggered by food restriction). A simple way to accomplish this sometimes is to remove bread because it’s a baby step that has the biggest bang for your buck usually, given the way most people grew up eating. However, removing sugars and sweets could be the only thing you do and see the biggest reward from, especially it is prevalent in your diet.
- Lastly, Cut out, or down on, coffee. While there are few studies to back up caffeine contributing to PMS and cramps, I see it clinically all the time. People who have cut out coffee earlier that month have an easier time with their periods the next cycle!
- Food Sensitivity Test. If you don’t know what foods you are eating that are causing you to have inflammation, or a food sensitivity or reaction to foods, see your naturopathic doctor to get a food sensitivity test done (a blood draw), which is very different from your skin-prick food allergy test your specialist might do. This will help you shape your diet to remove inflammatory food triggers for you and help you learn what anti-oxidant dense, anti-inflammatory friendly foods your body can handle.
- Hormone testing. Your naturopathic doctor also can do a steroid hormone metabolite urine test on you, to help determine how you are making and breaking down your hormones to support your body specifically. This, and other tests are often used for conditions (like hypothyroidism, PCOS, oligomenorrhea, premature ovarian failure) causing estrogen dominance leading to irregularities with your period, apart from PMS.
Tests can be ordered and administered by your Naturopath.
- Magnesium. Take your supplement 5 days before your period is due. There are also different forms of magnesium to consider. I like magnesium glycinate for your period pain.
- Omega-3. Add in a fish oil supplement at a dose your naturopathic doctor recommends to help ease the pain, and as a great brain fat and food.
- Vitamin D. I like to see vitamin D levels at 75 or higher in the blood, and in patients with auto-immunity or immune conditions, >100.
- B-Vitamins. You could start with a B-complex (generally low doses of all the B-vitamins). However, I like to pull them out for specific symptoms. B1 at high doses is great for menstrual pain from inflammation. B6, B12 and folate are great for reducing pain from excess estrogen.
- Herbal supplements. The list is too great. But plants are amazing at helping our hormones balance out. I prefer them to taking the birth control pill when using the birth control pill to manage hormonal symptoms (like period pain, acne, excess flow, or irregular cycles).
Period pain and PMS does not have to be your normal!
For more information on how to relieve your symptoms specifically, or what supplements to take at what dose and what type or brand, book an appointment with your naturopathic doctor. Book an appointment with me at www.drkaylee.com.
Or with Dr. Irons at www.provinceapothecary.ca
Want to know more about how your body works? Come get the 101 on healthy digestion, mood, stress management, PCOS and anxiety. Join my health class at www.drkaylee.com/healthschool101 Saturday March 31st.
Need help eating clean? Join the Province Apothecary 20-day Radiant Skin Reset offered twice a year. The next program begins June 2018, learn more HERE
- Taking charge of your fertility, by Toni Wescheler, MPH
- Women’s Encyclopedia of natural medicine, by Tori Hudson, ND
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